15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Birmingham & Coventry
Birmingham is Britain's second largest city, and its location in the West Midlands makes it a great place to begin exploring the many tourist attractions to be enjoyed in the Cotswolds and Malvern Hills areas-especially by canal. Birmingham's canals were a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution that saw the city boom, and today this extensive canal network is used mostly for pleasure boating.
The city in fact has more canals than Venice, with one of the top fun free things to do in Birmingham being exploring the preserved canals and historic buildings of the iconic Gas Street Basin. These days, the city is best-known for its jewelry and food stuffs, as well as its numerous cultural activities and festivals, such as Europe's second-largest St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Just 20 miles southeast of Birmingham is Coventry, the center of Britain's motor industry and a delightful day trip destination. A massive bombing raid in 1940 destroyed much of the city, including old Coventry Cathedral, the ruins of which were incorporated into the new cathedral. Today, Coventry's fine open squares, wide streets, and pedestrian zones are well worth exploring and offer many fun things to do, including great shopping and dining.
To ensure you can cram as much as possible into your England Midlands' travel itineraries, be sure to refer to our extensive list of the top attractions in Birmingham and Coventry.
See also: Where to Stay in Birmingham
1. Victoria Square & Birmingham City Center
The heart of Birmingham revolves around the pedestrian-friendly Victoria Square, and can be explored via the Birmingham City Centre Path. Along the way, you'll discover the attractive old Town Hall, built in 1832 and a masterpiece of Victorian architecture. Resembling a Roman temple, this impressive structure features 40 ornate Corinthian columns made of Anglesey marble, and has been the center of the city's music scene since hosting the first performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah in 1847.
Nowadays, its impressive Symphony Hall, with its world-class acoustics and stunning auditorium, regularly features A-list singers and performers and is also home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Adorning the forecourt are two memorials, one to Queen Victoria and another to inventor James Watt, while the Renaissance-style Council House (1874), with its famous "Big Brum" clock (a slang phrase for Birmingham) is close by.
Other old-city sites to visit include pedestrian-only Chamberlain Square and the Central Library, home of the largest Shakespeare collection outside the United States (50,000 volumes in 90 languages).
Just a short stroll northeast of the city center is the fascinating Coffin Museum, showcasing the history and traditions of coffin making and funerals, which is well worth including on your Birmingham travel itinerary (tours available).
2. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, opened in 1885, is considered one of the finest such museums outside London. Its art treasures include a collection of works by Pre-Raphaelite painters, as well as artwork from the 17th to 19th centuries and sculptures by Rodin and James Tower.
There are also interesting displays related to the city's history, including archaeological finds dating back to the Stone Age, along with the impressive Pinto Collection, with its 6,000-plus toys and other items made of wood. A gift shop is located on-site, and if you're interested in a great high tea experience, the exquisite Edwardian Tearooms is worth a visit.
If there's time in your schedule, pay a visit to The Ikon Gallery, a contemporary art museum located in a heritage building that's worth exploring.
Another great tourist attraction (though unrelated to the arts) is the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Set across 15 acres, these 19th-century gardens are easy to get to from the city center and home to countless species. It's particularly well known for its collection of bonsai trees, including one that's over 250 years old, and tropical birds. Also on-site is a butterfly house, a gift shop, and a tearoom.
Address: Chamberlain Square, Birmingham
Official site: www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag
3. Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum
Families traveling with budding young scientists won't want to miss Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum. This award-winning museum includes a large number of fascinating science-related exhibits, many of them hands-on and interactive.
Highlights include an impressive collection of steam-powered machines, from locomotives to tractors, as well as industrial machinery, many related to Birmingham's important role as an industrial center through the centuries.
Other fun displays include a chocolate packaging machine; the Spitfire Gallery, with its authentic WWII-era aircraft (including one of 10,000 Spitfires made locally); the Science Garden, with its human-sized hamster wheel; and the Thinktank Planetarium, with its fascinating tours of the stars and planets.
Address: Millennium Point, Curzon Street, Birmingham
Official site: www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/thinktank
4. National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham
One of Birmingham's most-visited tourist attractions, the National SEA LIFE Centre is home to an impressive 60-plus exhibits related to marine life. Pride of place goes to the aquarium's massive million-liter ocean tank, with its unique underwater tunnel, which allows visitors an uninterrupted view of the diverse sea life on display, including everything from reef sharks to giant turtles.
All told, some 2,000 critters call the aquarium home, including numerous rare seahorses, giant octopi, lobsters, crabs, stingrays, as well as otters (look out for Mango and Starsky!).
The stars of the attraction, though, are undoubtedly the penguins. Housed in the impressive Penguin Ice Adventure habitat, these fascinating creatures are fun to watch as they frolic. A 4-D cinema is also on site and offers regular educational programming. If time and budget permit, book one of the fun behind-the-scenes or penguin-feeding experiences.
Another creature-focused attraction is Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park, a small zoo that's home to a variety of animals including red pandas, lemurs, and meerkats.
Address: The Water's Edge, Brindley Place, Birmingham
Official site: www.visitsealife.com/birmingham/
5. Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
The Jewellery Quarter is an area of Birmingham that is steeped in tradition. Here, more than 200 jewelers' workshops and silversmiths produce 40 percent of Britain's jewelry, chiefly in the vicinity of the Clock Tower on the corner of Vyse and Frederick Streets and around the Georgian church of St. Paul's.
Be sure to visit the area's top sightseeing spot, the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, which offers an insider's look at the trade in the fascinating Smith & Pepper Factory. Also worth checking out is the nearby Hall of Memory opposite Baskerville House, erected in 1925 to commemorate the 14,000 city men who lost their lives in WWI, and St. Paul's Square with its attractive church.
If time permits, be sure to pop over to the Pen Museum. Situated in the Jewellery Quarter's old pen factory, this first-rate museum showcases the city's former role as a hotbed of pen making along with the history of writing instruments. A special treat is having the opportunity to make your own steel nib using the same machinery and techniques used in the 19th century. Also fun is the reproduction Victorian schoolroom, where guests can practice their penmanship using traditional quills.
Address: Vyse Street, Hockley, Birmingham
Official site: www.jewelleryquarter.net
6. St. Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham
Built in 1715, St. Philip's Cathedral (the third smallest in England) began life as a parish church and was elevated to its present status in 1905. The cathedral was gutted during a bombing raid in 1940, but foresight saw its famous stained-glass windows by Burne-Jones (1884) removed a few weeks prior. Today, these significant treasures-returned to their rightful place when the cathedral was rebuilt in 1948-are a highlight of any trip to Birmingham.
Be sure to check the cathedral's website prior to your visit for details of talks, seminars, exhibits, and concerts. Another religious structure worth visiting is St. Martin's Church. Dating from the 13th century, it also features windows by Burne-Jones.
Address: Colmore Row, Birmingham
Official site: www.birminghamcathedral.com
7. Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
Located close to Birmingham University, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts houses an excellent collection of art from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Highlights include masterpieces by the likes of Botticelli, Bellini, Tintoretto, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau, Manet, Monet, Gainsborough, Constable, and Degas. The building itself should also be explored, especially for its excellent statue of George I.
If time permits be sure to check out the institute's schedule of classical lunchtime and evening concerts. Guided tours are available, and a shop and café are located on-site.
Location: University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham
Official site: http://barber.org.uk/
8. Birmingham Back to Backs
Well worth visiting and within easy walking distance of the city center, the Birmingham Back to Backs attraction is a unique collection of the small "back-to-back" homes once so prolific throughout the city. Built around a central courtyard -in this case, Court 15-in the mid-19th century, these homes offer a unique insight into the often difficult conditions in which the working classes lived.
Interesting displays also provide an insight into these workers' important contribution to city life. Other highlights include a traditional 1930s sweet shop, along with a souvenir shop, or participating in one of the fun workshops held here regularly. For a first-rate tourist experience, consider booking one of the attraction's two cottages for an overnight stay. Admission is by guided tour only.
Address: 50-54 Inge Street, Birmingham
Official site: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birmingham-back-to-backs/
9. Cadbury World, Bournville
On Cadbury's Bournville manufacturing site, just a short drive from Birmingham, Cadbury World is one of the area's largest (and most popular) attractions, welcoming more than 500,000 visitors each year. With a focus on fun, visitors get to discover the history of chocolate, as well as the manufacturing process through a number of excellent themed interactive exhibits.
Along the way, guests learn the story of the Cadbury business, one of the world's largest confectioneries, as well as having a chance to enjoy theme-park-like attractions suitable for families.
A highlight is exploring the Bull Street attraction with its replica shops reminiscent of the 1820s. Be sure to also try your hand at making your own confectionary, as well as getting in some shopping in the world's largest Cadbury's sweet shop.
Afterwards, be sure to spend a little time exploring the picture-perfect village of Bournville itself, built by the Cadbury family after 1860 specifically to house their large workforce.
Address: Linden Road, Bournville
Official site: www.cadburyworld.co.uk/
10. Black Country Living Museum, Dudley
In the town of Dudley, just nine miles west of Birmingham, The Black Country Living Museum occupies a 26-acre site and offers visitors a vivid insight into the history of mining (hence the "black"). An old mine shaft and reconstructed turn-of-the-century industrial community consisting of 50 authentic buildings-many of them dismantled and rebuilt on the property -can be explored, as can the neighboring network of canals, a part of the adventure that takes place in an authentic narrow boat once used to transport coal.
Other highlights of this fascinating open-air museum include the chance to interact with costumed guides well-versed in the histories of the local people, plenty of unique shopping opportunities, vintage trams, buses, and commercial vehicles, as well as a traditional English fun fair from the 19th century.
Located between Birmingham and Coventry, Sarehole Mill Museum is an old water mill that dates back to the mid-1500s. Located on the River Cole in Hall Green, it's fun diversion if you're able to get here, and contains fascinating exhibits on its history, as well as one that deals with J.R.R. Tolkien, who as a child lived only a few hundred yards away.
Address: Tipton Road, Dudley
Official site: www.bclm.co.uk
11. Broadgate, Coventry
Broadgate, a spacious pedestrian-friendly square in the heart of the city of Coventry, is known for its references to Lady Godiva, the city's most (in)famous resident. A statue of her stands in the middle of the square, and Broadgate House has a unique clock on which Lady Godiva appears on the stroke of the hour, with Peeping Tom peering out of a window above.
Holy Trinity Church, at the northeast corner of Broadgate, has one of the city's three famous spires, this one constructed in 1166 and 327 feet high. The church boasts beautiful windows, a stone pulpit from 1470, and interesting tapestries woven for the coronation of Elizabeth II.
Also noteworthy is a medieval painting from around 1430 entitled Doom (also known as Last Judgment) and depicting Christ judging souls to send to either Heaven or Hell. Twice lost after being covered by layers of wash and varnish, the fully restored artwork is again on display and is said to be one of the most important discoveries in the field of medieval art in Europe.
12. Coventry Cathedral
Built in 1373 and originally one of the largest parish churches in England, Coventry Cathedral-also known as the Cathedral Church of St Michael-was only elevated to cathedral status in 1918. After the devastating blitz of 1940, however, only a few sections of the old cathedral's external walls remained, together with the slender 303-foot-high spire.
At the east end of the old cathedral, a cross, fashioned from two charred beams rescued from the ruins, is a poignant symbol and reminder of the destruction. (Interesting fact: the sacristies were rebuilt after the war with help from young German volunteers.)
A tall, canopied porch links the old cathedral ruins with modern St. Michael's Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence and opened in 1962. The walls of the 420-foot-long nave are built in zigzag fashion, the offset concrete panels alternating with windows facing the altar.
The most striking feature, though, is the huge glass screen at the building's west end. Engraved with figures of angels, saints, and patriarchs, it creates a striking visual link, both with the old cathedral ruins and the busy city streets outside. Another impressive feature is the baptistery, with its font hewn from stone from Bethlehem, and the stained glass Sunburst Window.
Address: Hill Top, Coventry
Official site: www.coventrycathedral.org.uk
13. Grayfriars, Coventry
The most interesting of Coventry's surviving half-timbered buildings is Ford's Hospital in Greyfriars Lane, an almshouse for poor married couples that was founded in 1509.
Nearby Greyfriars Monastery, destroyed in 1539, is worth visiting for its surviving steeple, now incorporated into Christ Church.
The dormitory and cloister of the Whitefriars Monastery have since been fully restored and now house an interesting museum dealing with local history. Bablake Old School (1560) is also worth seeing, as is Bond's Hospital, a half-timbered almshouse for elderly men founded in 1506.
14. Coventry Transport Museum
The Coventry Transport Museum provides a fascinating account of the history of road transport in Britain. Be prepared to stay awhile, though, as this is one massive museum. Highlights include an impressive collection of more than 300 cycles, 120 motorcycles, and more than 250 cars and commercial vehicles, many of them related to Coventry's rich past as the center of Britain's motor vehicle manufacturing industry.
Collections of note include royal limousines; cars of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s; as well as numerous fun interactive educational displays. A particular treat if visiting in winter is the chance to ride an antique sleigh... especially fun at Christmas.
Petrol-heads should also visit the amazing National Motorcycle Museum in Bickenhill. Set amid eight acres, this popular attraction is home to a collection of over 850 British-made motorbikes spanning a period of 100 years.
Address: Millennium Place, Hales Street, Coventry
Official site: www.transport-museum.com
15. Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
Another first-rate Coventry tourist attraction to explore is the excellent Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Often simply referred to as The Herbert, this fascinating museum is named after one of the city's most philanthropic industrialists, Alfred Herbert, and boasts numerous fine sculptures and paintings. Be sure to spend time visiting the gallery dedicated to art focusing on portraying parts of the city.
Other highlights include a large collection of costumes dating from the 19th century to modern day clothing, including items reflecting the city's diverse ethnic make-up, along with exhibits relating to the materials they're made out of. The museum offers a variety of workshops and educational opportunities, and there's a café on-site.
Address: Jordan Well, Coventry
Official site: www.theherbert.org
Where to Stay in Birmingham for Sightseeing
If you're looking to spend a few days sightseeing in Birmingham, we recommend these centrally located hotels in Birmingham located close to popular museums and tourist attractions such as the National Sea Life Centre:
- Luxury Hotels: The luxurious Hyatt Regency Birmingham is a high-rise hotel in the city center that's well worth staying at, featuring excellent city views, contemporary décor, spa facilities, an indoor swimming pool, and whirlpool. Another good luxury option is the Genting Hotel, a four-star property that offers a mix of rooms and suites, a restaurant with great views over the city, and a spa. The Edgbaston should also be on your list and is a delightful boutique hotel featuring elegant en-suite bedrooms, a great restaurant, and a posh afternoon tea.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The wonderfully-named Staying Cool at Rotunda is a great mid-range priced hotel offering a sleek design, serviced apartments, floor-to-ceiling windows, and comfortable beds. Hipsters and those who enjoy attractive old buildings should look into the Frederick Street Townhouse located in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter with cozy rooms, great beds, and old-style bathtubs. For a truly unique experience, book into the new Boatel Birmingham, featuring accommodations for up to eight guests in three rooms aboard a classic canal barge.
- Budget Hotels: The Staybridge Suites Birmingham is a great choice for those seeking a cheap Birmingham hotel and features affordable suites with kitchenettes, a free breakfast, and fitness center. So, too, is the Premier Inn Birmingham City Centre with its budget-friendly rates, central location, wonderful staff, and great breakfast. Be sure to also look for hotel deals at the Hilux Birmingham, an apartment-style hotel within walking distance of top attractions that offers quality bedding and clean accommodations.
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Easy Day Trips: The city of Manchester makes for a fun day trip from Birmingham, with its museums and revitalized city center being easy to get to by car or train. Lovely Liverpool is about the same distance (and as easy to get to), and is popular for its many Beatles-related things to do. Although a little further afield, Bristol can also be enjoyed in a day, with a stop at the beautiful Cheddar Gorge being a must-do along the way.
Great Weekend Getaways: The charming city of Chester makes for a great weekend getaway when in England, and is famous for its historic city walls and medieval architecture. Another historic cathedral city worth staying at is Durham, which also features a well-preserved castle and numerous cobbled streets. The northern city of Hull is not without its charms, too, including its museum quarter and excellent maritime museum.
England Travel Ideas: Be sure to set vacation time aside for a visit to England's capital, the city of London, a popular tourist destination for its ancient castle (the Tower of London) and Buckingham Palace. The English Lake District makes for another great place to stay, famous for lovely Lake Windermere and its endless water sports and hiking opportunities. The lovely city of Winchester is another great option, especially as it's located close to the country's top tourist attraction, Stonehenge.